Thursday, July 23, 2009

German Borscht, classic sammies, and gardens gone wild

I don't really know the details, but somehow my dad's side of my family ended up in North Dakota a century or so ago. Chances are pretty good that we were part of the mass immigration of Germans living in Russia who immigrated to the Great Plains of the US at the end of the 19th century. I mention this here only because somewhere along the way dad learned how to make a mean borscht, the eastern European beet soup.

When I was a kid, we had this tradition where dad would make borscht once in the summer, always on a Sunday, outside on a Coleman camp stove. Usually the whole family would get together for it. As I remember, it was made strictly with food from the garden, so we usually had it this time of year. As soon as we had beets, potatoes, and carrots, we would make this soup, with beet roots and beet greens as the centerpiece. Dad would always use a beef bone stock, which my veggie stock replaces here in fine style, thank you very much :)

I made this myself for the first time over the weekend, with fresh veggies from the farmer's market in Fargo. The beets and carrots were oven-roasted before adding to the soup, which also contains shredded cabbage, beet greens, new red potatoes, onion, garlic, and barley. If you like a deep red soup, my method works fine, since the roasted beets turn every bit of the soup red in a couple of hours. My dad's version always had a more clear stock, and I guess his trick was to boil the beets separately, and then strain off the liquid and add the cooked beets to the rest of the soup in a second pot. Beyond the veggies, seasoning is just salt, pepper, and a generous shot of fresh lemon juice.

So there you go. Even without the beef stock, my first spoonful of borscht was one of those transporting moments when taste evokes memories, like going back in time. I'm sure this recipe hasn't changed much since the German immigrants were making it in the 19th century, so I'm happy to keep at it.

Here's a couple of vegan takes on classic sandwiches too. Above is a seitan BLT, with fresh tomatoes - this thing was totally bursting with flavor, thanks mostly to real summer tomatoes. I gave thinly sliced seitan a quick treatment with the usual tempeh bacon recipe, frying the slices with a little maple syrup, tamari, and a wee bit of liquid smoke. There's a nice tempeh bacon recipe in The Vegan Table, among other books and blogs.

And this was lunch today. Vegan Brunch introduced many of us to black salt - you may find it as kala namak in Indian/Asian grocery stores - which magically adds the sulfury taste of actual eggs for all of those great vegan egg style dishes. I finally picked up a package - it's cheap! - at my local place, after Bianca over at Vegan Crunk made what may be the first ever vegan deviled eggs with it (speaking of food from my childhood). Can't wait to try those!

Anyway, that's a tofu salad sandwich, with good ol' kala namak making it taste just like an old school egg salad sandwich. Are vegans awesome, or what?

Finally, a picture of my garden...we hardly ever stop complaining about the weather up here, between endless winters, spring floods, and hot, humid and windy summers, but summer this year has been uncommonly mild and just beautiful. The garden is loving it. My nextdoor neighbors share the west end of this chaotic mess, on the left side. I think we were a little over-excited in the spring, and planted more than this space can take. Let me run down what's in this thing - butternut squash, turnips, swiss chard, kohlrabi, spinach, five kinds of salad greens, Italian parsley, basil, red basil, sage, rosemary, fennel, zucchini, and five kinds of tomato plants, plus at least three volunteer tomato plants from last year that already have fruit on them. I don't know what the hell we were thinking, but it's sure fun to go exploring in there. There's a line of tomato plants trailing off the left side out to the street too.


The Voracious Vegan said...

First of all I have to say that your garden is beautiful! So green and healthy looking.

Lovely sandwiches, one of my very favorite things to eat.

I make borscht all the time, but I blend everything together so it is a creamy, thick consistency. I will have to try your way too, it looks great! And yes, food is the best way to bring back memories, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Mike that garden is beautiful. You are so lucky to have such a great garden. Need to try black salt but i hated the smell of eggs so i wonder if it would be too overpowering. Those sandwiches look great and the method u describe seems to be the best way to get that gluteny smell out.

Anonymous said...

Wow Mr Green Thumb...awesome garden and thanks for the introduction to kala namak! Never heard of it! You rock for always teaching me new things!

Love love that story about your dad....sounds like one heart-warming childhood memory of yours....a taste of home:)

Stop making me hungry!

Sal said...

liking the idea of giving seitan the tempeh bacon treatment! gonna have to try that, soon!

Lisa (Show Me Vegan) said...

I have got to get some of that black salt! And your garden looks wild, in a good way.

miss v said...

i'm keep tabs on all the recipes to use with black salt once i finally get myself over to the indian grocer. that sammie looks great!

Anonymous said...

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Margaret said...

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